I normally do not do wine product reviews.
It is not a rule, as such, but other than a good corkscrew, I am not sure you need all that much wine “equipment.” I am gradually coming around to the opinion that even fancy/expensive stemware is unnecessary. That will likely get a rise out of some people, but I think that most “wine related products” are developed to dip into a demographic that generally has far too much money on their hands.
Recently, however, I saw a product that I just had to try: the VinGardeValise.
I do not travel all that much, I guess, but when I do, I almost always go to a wine region. My wife’s parents live in Northern California, her sister lives in Seattle, we go to France at least every other year, and I am usually able to convince my wife that we need to buy more wine (I say I “convince” her, but she would likely say that she simply relents–I think she is afraid to see a grown man cry if she were to say “no”).
Our usual approach to bringing wine back from our travels was either to wrap it in sweatshirts and underwear and cram it into a checked suitcase, or bring along a cardboard box containing a styrofoam shipping insert. The former is not optimal as I always expect one or more bottles to break, ruining my Lululemon hoodie or my Fruit-of-the-Looms (although this has yet to happen).
The second option (carrying a huge styrofoam container of wine) is simply a pain in the butt, or more precisely a pain in the arms, shoulders, and back. I have tried everything to make it less of a pain–strapping it to another suitcase, bringing along a little folding hand-truck, trying to convince my wife to take a turn (actually, I have never tried that last one since I know it has a 0% success probability–but I like lists of at least three…). On top of all that, I simply can’t stand the texture or sound of styrofoam (think fingernails on a chalkboard) and both of my boys know this, so they torture me, thinking it is downright hilarious.
So I have been searching for a solution for years and they are either really expensive (I have seen wine suitcases in those onboard magazines for $500+), or a bit too shabby (the product that you place your own wine box into a nylon shell that has rollers and a handle). Then, about a year ago, my friends at Dracaena Wines had a contest of sorts to win a VinGardeValise, and I entered.
I did not win.
I sulked for a while, angry that I did not win.
Yeah, I tend to get bitter easily (but yes, I still consider the kind people at Dracaena “friends” even though A) I did not win the suitcase, and B) I always have to look up how to spell the name of their winery).
We then went to California and I brought along another cardboard/styrofoam box. This caused my father-in-law to needle me (‘You are going to buy more wine”) and my kids to start squeezing the styrofoam and laughing hysterically as I cringed. So instead of divorcing my wife and/or punching my kids, as soon as we got home, I bought a .VinGardeValise.
Yes, I put down some of my hard-earned cash and bought one (I actually still have to send Barry at VinGardeValise a check, but I will).
And I love it.
First, some of the many positives:
- It seems pretty darned rugged: the polycarbonate and plastic shell seems ready to withstand even the most brutal baggage handlers (all of whom apparently work at Philly International my home airport).
- It looks like a normal suitcase: I guess I am a bit of a neurotic and I am always worried that someone will see my cardboard box with the stupid “Fragile” stickers all over it on a plane from San Francisco and figure out that it is wine. And grab it. The VinGardeValise, however, looks like any other suitcase, fooling would be thieves into thinking it is loaded with Gold-toe socks and Fruit-of-the-Loom skivvies. It also fools my father-in-law (but now he gets on me for how much luggage I have).
- The bottles are really secure: with high density foam surrounding each bottle, and several different straps to tighten, there is no way those suckers are going to move.
- It rolls easily: the four spinner wheels really make it a breeze to run through the airport like OJ, to catch a flight (oh wait, that is a rather bad cultural reference, please ignore it).
A couple negatives (although I really had to nit-pick here):
- You have to check it both ways: unless you get to check bags for free, this is going to add $50 to the cost of bringing back wine.
- Many bottles do not fit in the cut-outs precisely: as I see it, there is no real way around this, but I can assure you that once packed, those bottles are not moving. Period. Sure, they do not all fit as snuggly as the anal-retentive person in you would like, but they are 100% secure, trust me.
- It isn’t that cheap: $270 is $270 more than the re-used styro shipper cost, but the grief that it saved will eventually pay-off.
- It takes a while to pack: while it does not take that long, you certainly need to plan on a good 15-30 minutes to pack up the wine. No big deal.
Thus, I am a huge fan, and I strongly endorse it (and did not receive a dime to do so…)! Here are a few more pictures I took during the packing process: